If you think the Mazda Miata is small, try sliding behind the wheel of a vintage MG Midget. Today's Miata is a whopping 21.3 inches longer and 14.7 inches wider than the 1962 Midget shown here, a lovely first-year example of MG's entry-level roadster from the heyday of British funsters.
The Midget moniker came straight from MG's history books, dating back to the 1929 M-type. The iconic T-series, which hit the market in 1936, saw many changes and several names (TA, TB, TC, TD, and TF) during its nineteen-year life span but steadfastly hung on to its Midget nickname until 1955, after exposing large numbers of Americans -- mostly GIs stationed overseas during World War II -- to the concept of the sports car.
By the late 1950s, the two-seater market was incredibly competitive -- even American companies had committed to the segment with the likes of the Chevrolet Corvette and the Ford Thunderbird -- so it wasn't long before MG resurrected the original Midget's theme of extreme fun and performance for minimal money when it introduced a new Midget in 1961. (Archrival Triumph countered with a model below its popular TR3, the Spitfire, about a year after the Midget's launch.) Unlike its namesakes -- and the faster, bigger, pricier MGA that had debuted in 1955 -- this Midget was actually an early example of British badge engineering. It was basically the same car as the second-generation Austin-Healey Sprite, whose immediate predecessor premiered in famous "bugeye" form in 1958 and had been developed by Donald Healey at the behest of Sir Leonard Lord, the British Motor Corporation chairman who also drove development of the legendary 1959 Mini.
The new Sprite traded the bugeye's smiling grille and erect headlamps for a more conventional face almost identical to the one pictured above but with a crosshatch grille instead of a slotted one. The Midget had a few other trim differences and cost slightly more than the Sprite, but it managed to outsell its Healey twin by the time the next-generation Midget arrived in 1964. By 1971, Sprite production -- and Austin's partnership with Healey -- was over, but Midgets continued to be built until 1979. Those later examples, however, were stifled by outdated technology as well as safety and emissions requirements that necessitated ugly bumpers and ever-larger engines in order to maintain acceptable performance levels, so it's generally agreed that the best -- and purest -- Midgets are those built before 1967.